Sunday, November 02, 2008

Colonial Modernisms: Greece and India

In his introduction to Singular Antiquity and in Greek Archaeology and the Post-Colonial Blues, Dimitris Plantzos makes a connection between the artistic avant-garde of the Greek 30s Generation and the Bengalese School. This summer, I saw an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that supports the cross-cultural comparison. Rhythms of India: The Art of Nandale Bose (1882-1996) explores the intersection between traditional Indian visual traditions and modernity. In similar ways the Greek 30s Generation (Photis Kontoglou, Konstantinos Parthenis, Yannis Tsarouchis, Nikos Engonopoulos, etc.) attempted to integrate indigenous non-western visual traditions (Byzantium, vernacular, etc.) with modernism. For an operative description of the 30s Generation, see catalog by National Gallery of Greece here. The Bose exhibition was organized by the San Diego Museum of Art and New Delhi's National Gallery of Modern Art. For further information, see catalog by Sonya Rhie Quintanilla et al. (San Diego, 2008). Another recent book, Partha Mitter's The Triumph of Modernism: India's Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1922-1947 (London, 2007) explores these connections fully.

Michael Herzfeld has observed that Greek intellectual dislike comparisons with the "Third World," seeing themselves superior to places like Sri Lanka or India (Singular Antiquity). But as Plantzos argues, we cannot escape the Lacanian gaze of colonialism: "National identity had to be formed and propagated against a backdrop of (occidental) modernity and the crucial dilemma between modernization (which everybody craved, if surreptitiously) and westernization (feared to be the kiss of death to any non-Western society)."
The 30a Generation found a way to walk a tight rope between the two, although it was itself mired by racism and its own national colonialism.

1 comment:

Dimitris Plantzos said...

Thank you very much for the reference to Mitter's book. As for your offprint on Byzantium and the avant-garde, I will be glad to receive it.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States